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MENDOZA v. CITY OF ROME

October 5, 1999

JOSEPH M. MENDOZA AND LIONEL GOODMAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF ROME; POLICE DEPARTMENT OF THE CITY OF ROME, NEW YORK; MERINO CICCONE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE CITY OF ROME; JOSEPH GRIFFO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAYOR AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER OF THE CITY OF ROME; RAY ARCURI; DOMINIC CORIGLINO; FRED REBINSKI; INVESTIGATOR JOHN KEYES; AND OTHER UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS OF THE CITY OF ROME, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS POLICE OFFICERS OF THE CITY OF ROME; AND THE COUNTY OF ONEIDA; ONEIDA COUNTY SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT; MARY WILSON; CHARLES SCHEDARIE; AND OTHER UNKNOWN MEMBERS OF THE ONEIDA COUNTY SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEPUTY SHERIFFS OF THE ONEIDA COUNTY SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT,[FN1] DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Munson, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs' instant action, filed pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988, alleges Defendants used excessive force and falsely arrested plaintiffs in violation of their rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eight and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. They seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys fees and costs. Currently before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment, which plaintiffs oppose. After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, the court grants defendants' motions and dismisses plaintiffs' complaint.

BACKGROUND

At about 9:50 p.m. on September 12, 1994, several Oneida County Sheriff's Department ("OCSD") deputies — Warcup, Willson, Dodge and Bauer — arrived at the home of Albert Barnes in Lee, New York to investigate an armed robbery and shooting that had taken place there earlier that evening. Barnes told the deputies that his house had been entered by two males, one black the other white. Both were about six feet tall and weighed between 170 and 180 pounds. Barnes informed the police that the black male had shot him in the leg during an attempted robbery. Deputy Warcup radioed the details of the crime and the suspects' descriptions to the OCSD's dispatcher, as well as to other OCSD patrols in the area.

Plaintiffs Lionel Goodman and Joseph Mendoza, meanwhile, were driving along in a flatbed pickup truck through Lee. Goodman is black; Mendoza is white. Both wore baseball caps that evening.

At 10:20 p.m., the OCSD notified Deputy Chrysler to report with his K-9 to the Barnes' residence. Within a half hour, Chrysler was heading in his own vehicle on Route 69 from Rome toward Lee. While en route, he received a broadcast that two male suspects, one black and one white, traveling in a pickup truck with a flatbed, were heading toward Route 69 on the Lee Valley Road. The deputy continued along Route 69 until he saw the suspects' vehicle — plaintiffs' truck — pass him heading in the opposite direction. He then turned his vehicle and gave chase. Roughly two miles later, he caught up with the truck and called the OCSD's dispatcher, Deputy Schrader. Chrysler advised that he was following a flatbed pickup truck, with two males wearing baseball caps, approaching Rome, New York. Schrader directed other patrols to this location.

Deputy Mary Willson had left the crime scene and was on her way to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Utica, New York, to interview the crime victim further. En route, she, too, monitored the dispatcher's communication concerning the suspects' truck. She notified the dispatcher of her location and was instructed to assist Deputy Chrysler. At about this time, she saw both vehicles — the suspects' and Chrysler's — pass her going in the opposite direction, so she made a quick 180 degree turn, approached plaintiffs' vehicle, and activated her patrol car's emergency lights.

At approximately 10:30 p.m., the Rome Police Department ("RPD") received a teletype from the OCSD that informed them of the armed robbery and shooting in nearby Lee. It described the two suspects as black male and a white male wearing baseball hats and driving a flatbed pickup truck. RPD Officer Jay DiMaggio, who received the teletype, distributed it by telephone to other RPD officers, including defendant Dominick Corigliano.

About twenty-five minutes later, RPD Officer Scott Hall heard a radio transmission from the OCSD stating that a vehicle believed to be involved in the Lee armed robbery was proceeding east on Erie Boulevard in Rome, coming from the direction of the Town of Lee. Hall drove to Erie Boulevard and observed plaintiffs' flatbed pickup truck traveling the street, followed by a small dark colored vehicle and an OCSD vehicle with its emergency lights flashing. Officer Hall activated his emergency lights and likewise gave chase.

When the plaintiffs' truck pulled into a parking lot, Willson pulled along its driver's side. She exited her patrol car, removed her service pistol, and pointed it in the direction of plaintiffs' vehicle.

Corigliano had heard a radio transmission that the OCSD had stopped two suspects at a parking lot at the intersection of Erie Boulevard and South Madison Street, so he drove his police vehicle to that site. The several spotlights from the OCSD's patrol cars illuminated the truck and enabled Corigliano to see that its two occupants were a black male and a white male each wearing a baseball cap. Thus, while Willson aimed her sidearm at plaintiffs' truck, Corigliano addressed plaintiffs over his patrol car's public address system. With the OCSD's consent, he commanded plaintiffs to step out of the pickup truck with their hands on their heads and to lie on the ground. Plaintiffs obeyed these commands and exited their vehicle. Willson covered Bauer as he approached the vehicle's driver's side and handcuffed Goodman; Mendoza was handcuffed on the opposite side of the vehicle.

In addition to Deputy Willson, several other members of the OCSD arrived at the scene, namely deputies Ruhm, Dodge, Chrysler and Bauer.*fn3 Following plaintiffs' compliance with Corigliano's orders, Ruhm searched the interior of the passenger side of the vehicle, while Dodge searched the interior of the driver's side of the truck. Ruhm attempted to search a locked tool box behind the vehicle's cab, but it was locked. Plaintiff Goodman told him where the tool box key was located; and once the box ...


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